Three cousins and two friends headed out Christmas night to visit family and friends. They never made it home.
The group’s 1992 Buick LeSabre ran head-on into another car at 1:30 a.m. Friday and burst into flames on San Juan Avenue at Palm Avenue in Fair Oaks, killing four of the five occupants. Three of them were severely burned.
Neighborhood residents and passers-by managed to pull two women in the back seat out of the Buick. One was pronounced dead. The other was in critical condition Friday at Mercy San Juan Hospital, California Highway Patrol officials said.
The CHP identified the driver of the other car, a 2003 Subaru Outback, as David Mazur, 26, of Citrus Heights. Mazur, who was traveling northbound on San Juan, was reported in serious condition Friday at the hospital. CHP officials said he was wearing his seat belt. It was unclear whether the occupants of the Buick were wearing theirs.
A toxicology test on Mazur determined that he had no alcohol in his system. A toxicology test will be conducted on the driver of the Buick, CHP spokesman Chad Hertzell said.
A CHP official said the agency has spoken with family members of the Buick’s occupants, but is not releasing names pending formal identification. The coroner’s office is expected to use dental records to identify the dead.
A man who identified himself at the scene Friday as Enoc Vargas, 45, of Carmichael, said his wife, Judy Guzman Soto, 32, was one of the people in the Buick. He said he did not know whether she survived. Enoc Vargas worked Christmas Day and spent the evening at home with his 7-year-old daughter and several children of his wife’s cousins.
“She left with her cousins to spend Christmas,” he said in Spanish. “It wasn’t until I woke up a while ago that her aunt told me that they had crashed and the car had exploded and they burned.”
“I don’t wish what is happening to me on anyone,” Vargas said. When asked how his daughter was doing, he said, “She’s just crying.”
Hertzell said an initial analysis suggested the crash, south of Madison Avenue, may have happened at normal speeds. The CHP sent a special major-accident investigations unit to the scene Friday afternoon to do a more thorough review. Hertzell said it was unclear initially which car had drifted into the opposite lanes.
The wreckage had been cleared early Friday morning, but glass shards and vehicle pieces remained spread on the street and oil was pooled in the gutter at the crash site through the day.
Joseph Cruz, who lives on San Juan Avenue, said he heard the crash, and ran out to find the Buick on fire and a man in the driver’s seat hanging out the door. He couldn’t pull the door open so he grabbed the back door, got it open, and saw two women, one lying on top of the other.
One was non-responsive, he said. He pulled her out and dragged her to the side of the road, he said. Others came to assist. The second woman had a pulse. After she was pulled out, Cruz said, the fire in the car started popping.
“It was getting dangerous,” he said.
Another neighbor, David Alcock, said the flames were intense. “This car was like a blow torch was going off inside of it,” he said.
Mazur, in the Subaru, was awake but confused and saying he was in pain.
“It was bad,” Cruz said. “They were all young adults.”
Residents of the area said the section of San Juan Avenue is a speedway. The five-lane road swoops down from Madison Avenue and cars often reach 60 miles per hour.
There have been several crashes on the stretch of road recently, residents of the area said. A car went off the road and ran into an apartment nearby a few months ago. The apartment front is still barricaded with plywood.
“People fly down here,” Cruz said. “It’s scary to even pull out of the driveway.”
Teresa Huckaby, resident manager of an apartment complex on San Juan, said the stretch of street is basically a freeway.
Three months ago, a driver lost control and slammed into the corner unit of Huckaby’s apartment complex at Gail Way, ending up inside the the living room. Two people on a motorcycle were killed recently at almost the same spot, said.
“People drive this stretch of San Juan like it’s a freeway,” Huckaby said. She suggested the county put up a stoplight. “It’s scary just getting out onto San Juan. People are flying over that hill.”
CHP official Hertzell, however, said that despite the recent spate of crashes, that stretch of roadway had been generally problem-free in recent years. “It’s usually just fender-benders there,” he said.
Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059. Staff reporter Richard Chang and photographer Hector Amezcua contributed to this report.